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Simulated Mars mission shows good sleep is critical

Published on Jan 10, 2013 6:16 AM
This Nov 4, 2011 file photo released by Moscow's Institute for Medical and Biological Problems Russian shows researcher Sukhrob Kamolov greeting his relatives after completing a grueling 520-day simulation of a flight to Mars. Astronauts have a down-to-Earth problem that could be even worse on a long trip to Mars: They can't get enough sleep. And over time, the lack of slumber can turn intrepid space travelers into drowsy couch potatoes, a new study shows. In a novel experiment, six volunteers were confined in a cramped mock spaceship in Moscow to simulate a 17-month voyage. It made most of the would-be spacemen act like birds and bears heading into winter, gearing for hibernation. -- PHOTO : AP 

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Astronauts chosen for a manned mission to Mars could be in serious trouble if their sleep patterns are disrupted on the lengthy journey, a 520 day simulation has found.

"The success of human interplanetary spaceflight, which is anticipated to be in this century, will depend on the ability of astronauts to remain confined and isolated from Earth much longer than previous missions or simulations," said Mr David Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania, who co-authored the sleep study.

"This is the first investigation to pinpoint the crucial role that sleep-wake cycles will play in extended space missions."

Six volunteers - three Russians, two Europeans and one Chinese - climbed down a hatch into a 550 cu m confinement facility in Russia on June 3, 2010 to study the psychological and medical impacts of a long-term deep space flight.

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